Tired Oxen, Heavy Feet

Erasmus, Adagia 47 – The Tired Ox Plants its Foot More Heavily

Saint Jerome took up this adage in the most marvelously elegant way, writing to St. Augustine and trying to prevent a young man from provoking an old man. It is because those who are as it were worn out by age are less readily excited to combat, but at the same time, they rage and press on with all the more gravity if ever their elderly virtue, being provoked,  flares up again. He says, ”Remember Dares and Entellus and the popular saying, that the tired ox plants its foot more firmly. It seems to have been taken from the old custom of threshing, when the wagons were drawn by the oxen over the bushels and the grains were struck out partly by the wheels outfitted for this purpose, and partly by the oxen’s feet. And that Mosaic law which the apostle Paul cited in his Epistle to Timothy prohibits the mouth of the threshing ox from being bound.

And so, the tired ox, since it fixes its foot more firmly, is more suited to threshing. But the same is not true with a horse and running. It can be taken as alluding to the fact that young people excel in agility of body, while old people are superior in strength in stationary battle, as Vergil declares in the fight of Dares and Entellus. This is not out of tune with what I find in the collections of the Greeks, Ἀτρέμας βοῦς, which is to say, ‘Slowly the ox…’, where one is to understand, ‘moves his foot.’ For he moves gradually, but presses more heavily.

Threshing grain, 1929 - Martiros Sarian
Threshing grain – Martiros Sarian


Diuus Hieronymus oppido quam elegans adagium vsurpauit ad beatum Aurelium Augustinum scribens eumque deterrere cupiens, ne iuuenis senem prouocet. Propterea quod tardius quidem ad pugnam excitantur hi, qui iam sunt aetate quasi fessi, verum iidem grauius saeuiunt atque vrgent, si quando senilis illa virtus iritata recaluit: Memento, inquit, Daretis et Entelli et vulgaris

prouerbii, quod bos lassus fortius figat pedem. A veteri triturae more ductum apparet, cum circumactis a bubus super manipulos plaustris grana excutiebantur, partim a rotis in hoc armatis, partim a taurorum vngulis. Et lex illa Mosaica, quam citat apostolus Paulus ad Timotheum, vetat, ne boui trituranti os obligetur. Itaque bos lassus, quoniam grauius figit pedem, magis est ad trituram idoneus. At non item equus ad cursum. Potest allusum videri et ad hoc, quod iuuenes corporis agilitate praepollent, senes in stataria pugna ac viribus superiores sunt, id quod et Vergilius in Daretis et Entelli congressu declarat. Nec admodum hinc abludit illud, quod in Graecorum collectaneis positum reperio, Ἀτρέμας βοῦς, id est Lente bos, subaudiendum ‘mouet pedem’. Nam sensim quidem mouet, at grauius premit.

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